Over the past few decades, there has been a renewed and growing interest in biodiversity and wildlife conservation. Every year, humans encroach further upon natural habitats, leading to the accidental extinction of numerous species. Yet there are still pockets of pristine or protected lands worldwide. These are the places where new species are being discovered annually.
In 17 nations, the biodiversity is so vast that they contain the majority of the world’s species. The following are the top 10 of what are considered the most megadiverse countries in the world.
The largest island in the world and once considered its own continent, Australia might not seem like it belongs among the most megadiverse countries in the world. Yet this nation has the oldest geology and is the most isolated inhabited continent. It is home to between 600,000 and 700,000 species. Many of these, such as the koala and kangaroo, are endemic (found native only to that country). Since the arrival of Europeans, more than 50 animal and 60 plant species are known to have become extinct.
Australia has over 40 distinct ecoregions, many of which are listed as World Heritage sites. These include Fraser Island, the Greater blue Mountains Area, Lord Howe Island, Shark Bay, Central Eastern Rainforest reserves, and the Great barrier Reef. Throughout these regions, there are an estimated 250,000 species of fungi alone.
South America is home to a large number of species, and Venezuela is a prime example. This nation’s biodiversity has been getting increased attention in recent years. There are a number of regions of note. For example, Canaima National Park is home to a large number of species, as well as Angel Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. The Caura River Basin is home to even more species, including the long-haired spider monkey, the South American tapir, and numerous endemic frog species. The Northern Andes Conservation Corridor contains several threatened ecosystems, while the Guianan Region Conservation Corridor hosts a surprising number of unique species.
The Indian subcontinent collided with Asia long ago, but the number of unique species is still staggering. The nation’s waters hold 2,546 fish species, or roughly 11 percent of known species worldwide. There are also roughly 408 species of reptile (6 percent), 197 (4.4 percent) of amphibians, 410 mammals (8.86 percent), 1,250 birds (12 percent), and an estimated 15,000 species of flowering plants. Many of these species are famous or endangered, such as the Bengal tiger and the red panda.
Home to the largest human population in the world, as well as one of the largest deserts, China might not seem like a very biodiverse place, yet it happens to be seventh among the most megadiverse countries in the world. A large number of species are considered endangered or vulnerable, including several species of gibbon, tiger, and bear. The national animal, the giant panda, is among those at risk of extinction. China’s waters also contain more than 20,000 species of marine life, many of which have become threatened by a growing coastal population.
Home of the famous Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is another South American country to be megadiverse. It is estimated that the nation contains 5 percent of reptile, 8 percent of mammal, 8 percent of amphibian, and 16 percent of bird species in the world; yet the entire country is roughly the size of Arizona. A large amount of tourism revolves around the wildlife, including a staggering 140 species of hummingbird. Yasuní National Park boasted 150 amphibian and 121 reptile species in a 2010 survey. Yet Ecuador’s biodiversity is at high risk, and there is no guarantee that it will still be in the top 10 megadiverse countries in the world within a few generations.
Mexico is perhaps best known of being home to the Maya and Aztec civilisations. However, the fifth most megadiverse nation should perhaps be better known for the number of species within its borders. Its 526 mammal species make it the second most diverse in that category, and its 1,150 bird species place it as the tenth most popular residence for avians. There are also 26,000 known vascular plants and the fourth largest population of reptile species with 290 already identified and more being discovered. It has been estimated that as much as 12 percent of plant species are endemic to Mexico.
With much of the country comprising of the Andes mountain range, Peru may be another surprising entry into the most megadiverse countries in the world. What is interesting is that it not only reaches number four on the list, but Manu National Park is considered the single most biodiverse protected area in the world. There are more than 132 reptile and 155 amphibian species in this region alone, as well as 10 percent of the world’s birds and 12,000 species of butterfly.
As a whole, the nation contains 120 endemic species of bird, with 1,804 total species – more than the continents of Europe and North America combined. One fifth of the world’s butterflies live here, and there are approximately 3,000 species of orchid.
A massive archipelago of over 18,000 islands, Indonesia boasts 10 percent of known plant species, 12 percent of known animal species, and 17 percent of all bird species. It also has the third largest rainforest in the world – yet is only one percent of the world’s land mass. Indonesia has the largest number of mammal species in the world, clocking in at an impressive 515 species. Of the 25,000 species of flowering plants present, 2,000 species of orchids are found in Borneo alone, and approximately 40 percent of these species are endemic to the country.
Columbia is famous for its coffee, but there’s a lot more to enjoy. This South American nation is home to a massive number of endemic species, including 208 species of amphibian, 106 reptile, 28 mammal, 62 bird, and 1500 plants. Many of these are endangered. Despite being one of five South American countries to make the Top 10, it is perhaps the least known for its biodiversity.
Of all the megadiverse countries in the world, Brazil easily claims first place. Containing 60 percent of the Amazon Rainforest, the number of species are incredible. It contains 744 reptile species and 1832 bird species. It also has the largest known diversity in plants, numbering at 55,000 different species, 689 mammal species, 517 amphibian species, and 3,000 species of freshwater fish. Unfortunately, poor planning and flawed conservation laws mean that the rainforest is shrinking. There are countless species yet to discover, and at the same time, many known species are becoming endangered. Considering Brazil is home to an estimated 9.6 percent of all the world’s species, this is far from good news.